Loss of a Diabetes Mentor Renews Urge to Become a Diabetes Mentor

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When I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 1986, Patty was the first to come out of the closet, walking over to my desk in the newsroom to tell me she, too, had Type 2 diabetes.

A few years later, when my doctor told me to check my blood glucose — but neither offered any information nor referred me to a certified diabetes educator (CDE) — it was Patty who took me to the pharmacy and helped me pick out my first meter.

Even later, when I went on insulin, she told me she, too, took insulin and metaphorically held my hand as I took my first steps on my new path.

Patty’s heart was large enough to enfold all of us in the newsroom, and in other departments of the newspaper. That heart ceased beating last Wednesday. Its cessation left a hole in the hearts of all of us fortunate enough to know her.

While I was unable to attend funeral services, I’m told that the nun who officiated said she got the idea that Patty was the newspaper’s den mother. She couldn’t have been more accurate. I believe we all benefited from her warmth and caring — not to mention her ability to fix copiers, keep us from running out of supplies, and more.

Hopefully, I was a good friend to Patty, too. All of us need a friend who understands what it’s like to live with whatever we’re living with — whether it’s a chronic condition such as diabetes, something devastating like a diagnosis of cancer, or even something joyful, such as the birth of a baby.

I’m reminded of a program I attended about three years ago at the annual convention of the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE). On the panel were CDEs who had been diagnosed with diabetes in the midst of their careers as educators. Gee, I wish I could find my notes on that. I do remember that all of them noted their attitudes about the care and feeding of diabetes changed after they had to start dealing with it themselves.

Who else knows what it’s really like? Who else speaks our language? Sunday at the funeral home, another former colleague was saying that Patty “ate stuff she wasn’t supposed to.”

“While we’re supposed to eat healthful foods most of the time — just like everybody else — we can have treats,” I said. “Amazingly enough, we’re just like you: Everybody needs insulin. Your body makes and uses it properly and ours doesn’t so we have to compensate in some way.” That’s the gist of it, anyway. I actually said a bit more. OK, I said a whole lot more.

Civilians. Harrumph. Hopefully, however, at least one more person now knows “it’s not cheating; it’s creative eating,” which I believe is the name of a one-time Joslin program.

I believe that one of the things we can do to help our fellow travelers is to be a mentor, which I got to do for a couple of people several years ago. My former CDE put me in touch with a couple of her patients who needed a hand to hold. One was a very frightened newly diagnosed Type 1; the other a Type 2 who was having problems managing her diabetes. It was a very fulfilling endeavor.

For the first one, I was not only able to ease her — and her husband’s — minds on things that concerned them, I could pick up on where she could use some professional assistance and pass along the information to her (our!) CDE. I think many people are more apt to talk to a layman rather than “bother” a health-care professional.

The second was most concerned about fitting in healthful eating on top of work and she didn’t like to cook, anyway. I do like to cook, but I’m also the queen of putting together meals quickly by using shortcuts that can be found in the supermarket and fast-food restaurants. (No, I’m not talking about Big Macs: Think salads, baked potatoes, and the like.)

There is a program called “Peers for Progress” that was launched in 2007 by the American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation with a $15-million, 5-year grant from the Eli Lilly and Company Foundation, says a blog entry written by former Web Editor and blogger Tara Dairman.

Its initial purpose was to train people to be diabetes mentors but, according to Assistant Director Kevin Helm, the focus has since changed to develop and enhance research that proves peer support works. The organization will, however, connect you with a partner that does train peer mentors.

I think it’s good to let others know they’re not alone. I think it’s important that we all learn enough about diabetes to be able to help another member of what is sometimes referred to as “the club nobody wants to join.” Maybe we can begin by erasing the ignorance that exists, even among some people with diabetes. And, in turn, perhaps that knowledge will then be passed on to the general population.

Besides, I think Patty would approve.

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